Getting started as a freelancer is hard. There’s no one-size-fits-all system for making it work, and a lot of the time you can end up floundering around on all the freelancing websites trying to compete with thousands of other freelancers for a job that pays pennies.
These websites can seem like a good bet in the early days because they have clients that are ready and waiting. You don’t have to make too much of an effort to go out and find clients on your own. Instead, you can just scroll through page after page of potential projects and apply to the ones that look like a good fit.
Sounds a bit dreamy, right? Well, think again…
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What Do You Mean By “Freelancing Websites”?
They are often a race to the bottom as the competition can get really fierce.
It doesn’t help that the freelancers applying to jobs come from all over the world, which means the cost of living differs dramatically for applicants. While someone might be totally comfortable charging $15 for a project, for other freelancers in more expensive parts of the world this just isn’t a liveable wage.
The Freelancing Websites You Should Stay Away From
There are a few main culprits you should avoid, these include:
I want to add a caveat here though.
At the start of my freelance career, I used these sites a lot and I actually managed to get a fair amount of ok-paying jobs on them. But the effort I put into getting jobs was not worth the smattering of sporadic projects I landed.
Instead, I could have focused my energy elsewhere and grown my business on my own terms. Sites like these are a vortex for freelancers. You can end up getting stuck in them for years, not knowing how to break free and as a result taking on work that’s boring and really low paid.
The Problem With These Kinds of Freelancing Websites
There are some positives about these sites. They often rank high on search engines, so if you’re well-performing on them, you can show up in searches when your own freelancer website doesn’t.
There are also a tiny handful of great clients lurking on them who don’t know where else to look for high-quality freelancers. But again, these are few and far between and very difficult to stumble across.
On the flipside, there are a whole host of negatives about these kinds of freelancing websites.
1. The Client is in Charge
Because there are so many freelancers clamouring for a gig on these websites, the client has all the power.
They get to dictate how much money you get and they get to dictate the scope of the project. This means that you suddenly go from expert freelancer with an amazing talent to a minion at the mercy of a brand’s whims.
This isn’t the way to build a business.
The most successful freelancers establish an area of expertise and work with clients to get great results, not work for them. This is near-on impossible to do when you’re constantly having to do exactly what a client says because otherwise they’ll choose the next best option.
2. The Pay is DREADFUL
Freelancing websites are notorious for paying freelancers absolute peanuts. The sheer amount of competition means applicants are forced to drive their prices right down if they want to stand a chance at getting hired.
And then, to add insult to injury, these websites take a huge percentage cut off the top of your earnings. This leaves you earning very little at the end.
$10 for 1,000 words?! Eesh….
3. You’re At the Mercy of the Site
I’ve heard horror stories from freelancers whose sole income came from freelancing websites like the ones I mentioned above.
Then, one day, the site simply shut down their account for a trivial reason and they lost access to all their clients and their entire business.
From there, they have to build their business up from scratch.
This is a huge problem with these kinds of sites. They have so many rules and hoops you have to jump through and they’re constantly throwing people off for doing tiny things wrong that shouldn’t even have been a rule in the first place.
Once you’re “banned”, you can’t go back. For a lot of freelancers this means the end of the road for their dream of self-employment.
4. You Can’t Build a Business Using These Sites
Freelancing websites like UpWork and Fiverr are okay for picking up quick gigs when you’re low on money and need a boost to your income, but they should never be the way you build your business.
There’s too much at stake using these sites.
Not only do they take a cut of your hard-earned money, but they put all the power into the hands of the client, relegating you to mere employee status.
What Should You Do Instead of Using Freelancing Websites?
But what’s the other option?
Using sites like these is the easy option, despite the trial and error of applying for potentially hundreds of jobs and not landing any. They are a lazy way to find freelance work that’s low-paid and not meaningful.
Instead, if you want to create a sustainable business that has longevity, you need to focus on building a brand from the ground up. This means finding a niche to fit into, growing your expertise, and reaching out to prospects that you want to work with or that you believe need your help.
Start by identifying your target audience: are they innovative finance companies like Monzo or Starling? Are they beauty brands that sell eco-friendly products?
Then figure out how your skills can add value to these brands.
For example, if you’re a landing page writer, can you increase conversions for finance companies? Can you create useful ebooks about beauty techniques that will attract more buyers?
Next, compile a list of brands in your niche (a quick Google search for “[niche] brands” will bring up some quick results) and start reaching out to them sharing the value your service can add to their business.
I show you exactly how to do this in step-by-step detail in Pitch & Prosper, a program for freelancers that are ready to get off freelancing websites and start building a business they own and love.
Like I said, I used freelancing websites like UpWork at the start of my career and managed to find a few good clients there. But it wasn’t until I chose a niche, focused my website and messaging, and started pitching clients that my services could help that my business really took off.
And I have absolutely no doubt that you can do the same too. It can be hard moving away from something comfortable, but to create a sustainable, long-term business, you have to step out of your comfort zone.
You can do this!
This post first appeared on Wanderful World
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